2011 NFL Draft primer: Expect the unexpected on unpredictable day
Late rumors include Redskins trying to trade up for Blaine Gabbert
Team to watch: Cleveland, which is unlikely to stand pat this weekend
Prospect to watch: Patrick Peterson, who many teams want to trade up for
SAN FRANCISCO -- This day's going to be fluid as the league reacts to Wednesday night's court ruling that its doors stay open. Teams have already learned that they can meet with players and issue playbooks on Friday, with more guidelines forthcoming tomorrow. For now, let's focus on the draft, the only sure thing we know will happen today.
There are rumors aplenty in the final hours before tonight's 8 p.m. start. Washington trading up from 10 to try to get Blaine Gabbert. New England dealing one of its three picks in the top 33 for a 2012 first-rounder. The bottom of the round being a lottery for flawed quarterbacks.
"What's made this draft so hard to read is there's a really good player -- two in some cases -- at almost every position, and you may find teams trading to compete for them,'' Tampa Bay GM Mark Dominik said Wednesday. "Von Miller as a pass-rusher, Patrick Peterson as a cover corner, A.J. Green and Julio Jones at receiver. And it's a quarterback-driven league, lots of teams need quarterbacks, and there are questions about them. So it could be a really unpredictable draft.''
Not "could be.'' Is. A final draft primer on what you need to know today:
The mocks you've been waiting for.
We all do mock drafts, and I'm not demeaning the importance of any of them. But the two most-anticipated ones are out this morning -- Mike Mayock of NFL Network and Rick Gosselin of the Dallas Morning News. Both men talk to most if not all teams before making their picks. Mayock's draft is up at NFL.com. Gosselin's draft is behind a free registration wall at the Morning News. But I'll synthesize some of his most salient points, and Mayock's.
They agree on the top seven picks, in order:
Cam Newton (Carolina)
Von Miller (Denver)
Marcell Dareus (Buffalo)
A.J. Green (Cincinnati)
Patrick Peterson (Arizona)
Julio Jones (Cleveland)
Blaine Gabbert (San Francisco)
That last one surprises me, Gabbert lasting 'til seven. Then they diverge. Mayock's highlights are Mark Ingram to the Giants at 19 -- how fitting for the Ingram family -- and wideout Jonathan Baldwin going to Chicago at 29. Gosselin goes quarterback-crazy early: Jake Locker at eight to Tennessee (I still think it's Nick Fairley; the Titans are desperate to help their D first today), Christian Ponder to Washington at 10, Andy Dalton to the Vikings at 12. Mayock's got Locker at 28 (to an unknown team trading up with New England), Dalton at 32 (to an unknown team trading up with Green Bay) and Ponder out of the first round. Neither man has pockmarked Arkansas quarterback Ryan Mallett in round one.
Gosselin's other highlights: Nick Fairley sliding to Detroit at 13, Mark Ingram to the Rams at 14, Mike Pouncey to Miami at 15, Cam Jordan to New England at 17 (though he projects the Pats to likely trade this pick), Robert Quinn to Tampa Bay at 20, Anthony Castonzo to Indianapolis at 22, and what I consider his biggest surprise in the round -- cornerback Prince Amukamara sliding to Seattle at 25, two slots behind Jimmy Smith going to Philadelphia at 23. Check out Gosselin's comment on Baylor guard Danny Watkins, who he has going to New England at 28: "Watkins is the safest pick in the draft, the one player you can confidently say will be in the Pro Bowl in 2012.''
The hot team: Cleveland.
Now the Browns could sit where they are in the first four rounds -- at overall picks 6, 37, 70 and 102 -- but I'd be very surprised. I'm told GM Tom Heckert has an itchy trigger finger this morning, and is looking forward to dealing out of number six if the Browns' preferred pick is not there. If Gabbert's there, as Mayock and Gosselin project he will be, there's a chance the Browns could get a good extra pick (from Tennessee, moving up two spots) or more (from a QB-needy team down in the round). Cleveland could be the team that thinks it could turn its first-round pick into a good second-rounder in this draft, a first-rounder next year, and something else.
Remember a couple of things about Cleveland: Heckert learned from working under Trader Andy Reid, and he's not scared of losing out on a player by moving a few spots. Club president Mike Holmgren, from observing Bill Walsh and Ron Wolf and from his own beliefs, loves to wheel and deal too. Heckert and Holmgren strongly trust their gut about players. Say they want a pass-rusher and franchise receiver badly. They're the types who's say, "We'd rather have Titus Young and Brooks Reed this year, and an extra one next year, than Robert Quinn or Julio Jones this year.'' The Browns could end up sitting tight, but if their guy or guys aren't there, they'll move.
The dying quail: Clemson DE Da'Quan Bowers.
"New England's got to be licking their chops at 17 about him,'' said Dominik. Six months ago, though a junior and with no declared intention to enter the draft, Bowers was a candidate to be the first overall pick. Then his knee flared up late in the season, he had arthroscopic surgery, and now teams hare worried the knee won't last long in the NFL. "You've got to look at him, try to figure how many years he'll play football for sure, and figure if he's worth the gamble,'' one GM said this week. He'll go anywhere from 13 to 25.
The marquee position: quarterback.
It's confusing, as you know, but I'd be very surprised if Newton doesn't go number one to Carolina; if Gabbert doesn't go in the top five to Cincinnati or Arizona, he could go to a tradeup team like Washington or Tennessee. Many of you have asked about the Panthers trading down, if for nothing more than a bag of footballs; no sense in picking Newton first overall and having to pay him $55 million guaranteed, or whatever the play-money number will be. Why not move down and get him, or take someone else? Simple. No one wants the pick. Carolina's heard from no one, and almost certainly won't, particularly without the specter of a rookie wage scale being in place.
The big questions won't end there. Most analysts think Andy Dalton's arm isn't strong enough to be a first-rounder, and that Jake Locker is too inaccurate to be a very high pick. One GM who will take a quarterback in the first two rounds told me Tuesday night: "I guarantee Andy Dalton and Jake Locker will go in the top 20.'' And so it goes.
My best guess this morning is Newton, Gabbert, Locker and Dalton will go in the first round, with Ponder and Mallett picked no later than Jacksonville at 49. After that I see Colin Kaepernick and Ricky Stanzi gone by the end of day two -- though some of the teams that like Stanzi might think they can get him early in the fourth. But there could well be eight quarterbacks in the first three rounds, which would be a draft record.
The hot prospect: LSU CB Patrick Peterson.
He's probably the one player teams might consider trading up in the top 10 to get. I had Houston moving up to No. 7 to pick him in the first round in my mock draft last week; this week, ESPN's Todd McShay had Houston moving up to number five, dealing with Arizona, to get Peterson. I've been told in the past couple of days that Houston GM Rick Smith is loathe to use so much draft currency to move up from 11 to five or seven to get Peterson (it would likely cost him the Texans' second-round pick to do so).
Let's assume the number two corner on many boards, Prince Amukamara, is available at 11. If you're Smith, you ask yourself: Would I trade Patrick Peterson for Amukamara and any one of three options at positions of need with pick number 42 in the second round -- the third wide receiver (maybe Maryland's Torrey Smith), the first safety (UCLA's Rahim Moore), or maybe the second running back (Mikel Leshoure of Illinois). That's a tough question. The gap between Peterson and the next corner would have to be huge for Houston to do that.
The division: The AFC East.
This is a very big draft for the AFC East. It's a draft that could see the Patriots put more space between themselves and the rest of the division in terms of young roster talent. Check out the number of picks in the top 75 of the draft for each team in the East:
New England -- 5
Buffalo -- 3
New York Jets -- 1
Miami -- 1
The Dolphins don't pick for a second time until the 79th overall pick. The Jets don't make their second pick until the 94th overall. (New England actually has a sixth pick, the 92nd overall, before the Jets make a second pick.) That's the price of dealing for Brandon Marshall last year for Miami, and the price, for the Jets, of dealing for cornerback Antonio Cromartie. Those moves seemed right at the time, and those two teams would tell you they're not unhappy with either deal.
The quote of the day: On those wacky Bengals.
Gosselin gives the Bengals A.J. Green, the Georgia wideout, at number four, and offers this prescient comment: "This is the only shot the Bengals have of luring Carson Palmer out of retirement. Draft the best receiver in college football, release Chad Ochocinco and Terrell Owens, and give Palmer a clean canvas to resume his career."
Now, mercifully, it's on with the draft. And whatever else this day brings before 8 tonight.